Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged walking

  • The Ground and The Wind

    The Ground and The Wind

    One of my hobbies is loading an online map and exploring Tasmania. Of course I use the official Land Information Services version; it has a search function, but usually I don’t use it, since I’m often not really looking for anything in particular. I just hack at the island with double-clicks until it “zooms” into a spot that has caught my attention.

    I spent a chunk of this year away from here, playing at these maps from afar. I’d hone in on a patch where blue lines went wandering down the greyish lumps that made up a mountain range; these cobalt-coloured incisions, the rivers, would cut across blood-red highways and spurt off somewhere to the south-west, beyond the bottom-left of my computer screen.

    The landscape was always marked by an interesting set of radiating contours – a massive crack in the screen. And just when you thought the next road was going to lead to some town with a welcoming pub (let’s go with Queenstown), you’d find yourself following the scarlet asphalt towards an empty bowl that recently contained dinner.

    Robert Macfarlane once wrote that “a map can never replicate the ground itself.” You can try and double-click your way nearer to the landmarks on an online map, but you will still be extremely far away from them.

    Now I am on the ground itself. In a season of doubt, I cleave to tracks I know well. I follow a familiar route up the mountain. But even still there are surprises – not the least of these being the fact that the track has been ‘rerouted’ in my absence.

    I forget the map; I try and forget my doubt. For a while I pretend the path is inevitable. Or timeless. I acquiesce to westerlies, put faith in a world ruled by wind. There is the eagle’s view, and the skink’s view. If a fantail drew a map, it would have to be made of liquid.

    I find new maps to unfurl and unfold. “Every hundred feet the world changes,” Roberto Bolaño put it. I click fiercely at Nanda Devi, Sussex, Western Australia, drag the planet about with a clenched index finger. I click futilely at that enormous fantasy of soil and river and rock. With more purpose I go thirty metres up the track and find a new view, something that dislodges crusty old thoughts from my mind.

    There is no need to click on the track beneath my feet. The vermilion cupolas of waratah flowers astound the forest. The melancholy little flowers of heartberry bushes droop dismally. Eight roos browse on the moorland. A currawong tells a short tale. A hundred feet away, attaining the plateau, I wrestle with gusts, with the beautiful wind, the spirit of the high country, the dominant vector in the landscape, a spontaneous unmappable force, an invisible cache of surprises.

  • Flirting With the Frosty-Faces

    Flirting With the Frosty-Faces

    Even prior to becoming the first chief of Tasmania’s tourist bureau, Evelyn Temple Emmett spent much time walking around the island, and occasionally headed interstate to give talks about it, or received international delegations to the state. He was a fine ballroom-dancer and skiier. In 1931, aged 60, Mr. Emmett was a leader of the inaugural party to ever complete the now-famous Overland Track. On his way there, he passed through the town of Deloraine – arriving in his favourite mode of transport, on hoof.

    Mr. Emmett was very fond of Deloraine. He thought it was high on the list of the prettiest towns he’d ever come upon, and marvelled at the Old World trees along the river and the church spires reaching into the sky, streets and roads stretching up hills and around bends. Above the town, the Great Western Tiers stood majestically. Mr. Emmett would later summit the nearby peak of Quambys Bluff.

    “The only criticism I can make of Deloraine is that it is cold in winter and knows what frosts are,” Mr. Emmett said, strolling into town early one morning and feeling the sting of the cold on his face. But even of that grim cloud he found a silver lining. For there, on the banks of the Meander River, was a sight perhaps even better than that of the quaint town or the view from the Tiers: three charming lasses.

    “Stop!” Mr. Emmett cried to the young women. “Please; for I want to pay Deloraine a compliment through you.” And so they came to him, and Mr. Emmett explained how wonderful their complexions were, no doubt thanks to the cool air of Deloraine; and how, somewhere like Sydney, young women would pay £5 per square inch of whatever stuff might give them such a fine appearance as these locals of the Meander Valley had.

    Mr. Emmett finished his flattering speech with a flourish and a broad smile; and finally, letting the lasses have their chance to respond, he found them giggling hysterically.

    “Thank-you sir,” one of them finally said, “but we only arrived yesterday to this hole of a place, from Sydney, and we bought our complexions with us.”

    “The Deloraine frosts have nothing on our George Street chemist!” another chimed in.

    Nevertheless, good humour was retained amongst the group. Mr. Emmett took the young women out for breakfast. And they all went out to the races together, for which purpose the girls had come down from Sydney. It was a splendid day out, and after the morning’s events, laughter was easy to come by.

    The girls went back to Sydney and Mr. Emmett never saw them again. But returning home from his Overland Track adventures, he found a package at his house, bearing a postmark from Sydney. It was a little packet of powder. “For your wife if you have one,” the typewritten message read. “From the Three Frosty-Faces.”


    Another great journeyman on foot was Henry Reading, who made an almighty stroll from Hobart to Launceston.

  • Remembering a Long Walk

    Remembering a Long Walk

    Sometimes, towards the end, he would look back on it all and laugh. As the years had gone by, Henry Reading had accumulated an immense wealth; he owned over 120 properties in the north of the island, and it was said that there wasn’t a street in Launceston that you couldn’t find a house of Henry’s.

    He was the equivalent of a millionaire, but that hadn’t seemed like Henry Reading’s destiny from the beginning. Born to a young mother in one or another of London’s gin-soaked hovels, Reading was imprisoned for stealing beeswax, and sentenced to Van Diemen’s Land on the Claudine. When he arrived in 1821, he had just turned thirteen years old, and stood at a a miniscule 137 centimetres tall.

    Henry was a well-behaved convict and earned his ticket-of-leave in due course. The urge to have a fresh start stirred within the young man. He decided to leave Hobart, and head for the northern settlement of Launceston. For a poor convict lad, there was no transportation available – other than his two feet. Henry Reading put his few possessions on a handcart and began lugging it the 190 kilometres from Hobart to Launceston.

    It was April when he set out. Cold winds blew, rain came and went, and the odd storm assailed him. The transplanted trees on the homesteads were beginning to litter their leaves. Occasionally a servant, a cook, or even a master would take pity on the little man hiking across the island and give him soup, grog, or a bed to sleep in.

    Oddly, when he was older and reminiscing on his walk, Henry Reading could remember little of the aching muscles, the wet clothes, the cold rivers he had to wade, the blisters, the nights of bad sleep, or the hunger. He knew that’s how it had been – a tough slog – but instead, he remembered the good moments: these instances of hospitality, or the sight of a blue sky over the Midlands plains. Or best of all, that final day of walking.

    It had nearly been a month since he crossed the Derwent River coming out of Hobart Town. Now, departing Breadalbane on May 12th, Henry felt the load lighten a little, knowing he would soon be arriving to a new life, a clean slate, a blank page. And as he approached Launceston, he noted in his diary the immense heads of cattle that he was passing through. “Prosperity bodes well here,” he scrawled.

    Yes, when Henry Reading thought about the naïve young man he had been when he wrote that prognostication, he had to laugh.